Sunday, April 26, 2009

Newtology

Garden pond
The pond

Now the days are longer and the weather (slightly) better, I've been spending time by the pond again. For the past two or three weeks, 'our' Great Crested and Smooth Newts have returned.

The water's still clear, so it's possible to watch them with binoculars without disturbing them, which is great fun. The Smooth Newts are easier to see, favouring the shallower water, while the Great Cresteds lurk in the deep and only come up for air every 15 minutes.

I love watching them swim about. The Smooth Newts in particular seem to live in their own watery world, floating around with their little legs sticking out at right-angles.

Watching them 'hunting' is intriguing. Through binoculars, you can see them lining up a morsel of food - perhaps a mosquito larva. It wiggles, tantalisingly, in front of the newt's nose. The newt prepares to make its move... but often it seems that the larva is ahead of the game and makes off just before the newt prepares its explosive burst of speed.

I'm getting better at newt identification now. Telling male from female Smooth Newts is fairly straightforward - mature males have a jagged crest from head to tail, looking a bit like a mini Stegosaurus, or an aquatic crinkle-cut chip. The females are... Smooth, looking more like a lizard.

We seem to have some huge female Great Crested Newts in the pond, bulging with eggs. The males follow the females around and swim in front of her, sometimes even lashing them with their tails. Not very romantic.

So, now that I've turned into a newt nerd, I decided I needed to learn more about them. And that's why I went to Ramsey Heights yesterday for 'An Introduction to Great Crested Newts'. We weren't introduced personally to any newts, but I learned a lot. An afternoon in the classroom was followed up with practical newt surveying - shining torches into the pools where they live. You need a licence to do that, but it gave me a taster of something I'd like to find out more about...

photos taken with Canon Powershot A640